Here’s our recap of the second day of the SIHH 2019. Yesterday you could read about our first-day experience at the SIHH, and now we are already half-way. And we’ve now seen and tried that much talked about Code 11:59 at Audemars Piguet in the flesh, had an interesting session at Cartier and looked at the new pieces at Montblanc. We also did the photo shoot at Vacheron Constantin and A. Lange & Söhne, giving us a bit more one-on-one time with their new watches.
SIHH 2019 Is Crowded
But first things first, the SIHH has been shortened with one day compared to previous years. Yesterday and today it became very clear that this also means that the place (Palexpo) is much more crowded than it was in previous years. It already started this morning with the shuttle bus to the SIHH venue. There were way too many people for the shuttles and after we finally arrived at the Palexpo, there was a queue from the bus to the security checks that I wrote about yesterday. I kid you not that it took almost 45 minutes to get inside the SIHH. Inside, the place was quite packed all day. Retailers, journalists, staff, brand reps… It just appeared to me that they invited more people than ever before. No seats, crap WiFi, no lockers, no lunch… Welcome to the #watchpressglam life (the guys from Time and Tide and our Bert came up with that new hashtag this morning).
But what am I complaining about, this is our work (and life) and we enjoy it. I would just say that SIHH lowered their standards a bit and is now approaching the level of luxury we are used to from Baselworld. Comes in handy for next year, when Baselworld and SIHH will be held shortly after each other.
Enough with the complaining, let’s have a look at the brands we visited today, and which made good impression and which, well, didn’t exactly live up to our expectations.
Our first presentation was at Cartier. Cartier is the largest brand of the Richemont Group (in volume, but also in turnover) and takes a huge part of the SIHH venue. La Maison really is a maison at the SIHH, it is simply unbelievable how big it is compared to some other booths. The presentations are always flawless, the people dress elegant and look immaculate and the schedule is precise as a Swiss movement. That was also the case again this year, where they showed us some pretty amazing watches. There is a lot for ladies this year, with the Panthere, Cartier Libre and Cartier Privé Tonneau watches (although the latter were also for men, but I am not sure if that’s really the case with such small cases and straps). Then, Cartier showed new Santos models. A Santos Chronograph with a pusher at 9 o’clock to start and stop the chronograph, and by pushing the crown you actually reset the hands. Furthermore, they showed us a Santos Squelette Noctambule and a smaller Santos Dumont watch with quartz movement.
The latter one was definitely my favourite, despite the quartz movement. An elegant Santos Dumont watch on a leather strap, perfectly sized as a dress watch. It is a homage to the watch that was given to Santos Dumont in 1904. The quartz movement is manufactured by Cartier and has a high-performance battery. A combination of that battery and a highly efficient engineered movement will ensure it can run six years without having the battery changed. The only downside of this watch was the dial to be honest. It looks a bit cheap, at least not up to the standards of Cartier. Although I was looking forward to seeing and try their Santos chronograph, this was a huge disappointment. The watch is simply too big for my wrists (and I have large wrists).
Oh boy. Audemars Piguet is the talk of the town in Geneva because of their CODE 11:59 watches. Today we had a presentation of the new Audemars Piguet CODE watches as well as our one-on-one photoshoot with some selected watches. Let’s start with the CODE 11:59. As I wrote yesterday, you need to see it in the flesh before you can really comment on it. Well, you can surely comment on everything you see on Instagram, Facebook or a website, but some things really show better in the flesh. Just like you have beautiful people that are not very photogenetic, you also have watches that don’t look good on a picture but can completely turn you around when shown in the flesh. Well, not with the CODE 11:59.
Journalists are asked by AP not to take a ‘frontal’ picture of this watch without showing the case band or lugs etc. That sounds a bit like confessing something is wrong with the watch. If the design would be all awesome, it should have also looked good when you are looking right at the watch (dial side), like the Royal Oak actually does. Or most other famous designs. The CODE 11:59, and that goes especially for the three-hand version and chronograph, just look nothing special when seeing it face-side. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, as I actually ran into people who are quite fond of it. But to me, for a watch with this price-level and also for a watch from a brand that has been all about ‘breaking the rules’, it is a dull watch. It could be any name on the dial, and not necessarily a good one. The finish is beautiful and clearly shows, but the design is simply below par for a brand like Audemars Piguet. The side of the case is a wonderful piece of architecture though and the new movements look awesome (and huge!), it is just the dial-side that ruins it for me. I can’t imagine this was what AP’s CEO Bennahmias had in mind when he said yes to this watch. Is it all bad then? No. When it comes to the CODE 11:59, I have to admit that the QP version is simply stunning. The aventurine dial is mesmerizing and definitely compensates more than enough for the rather dull round case (when seen from the top).
The other AP news that is hardly getting any coverage is the novelties for the Royal Oak series. Where last year was clearly a Royal Oak Offshore celebration, they now updated the Royal Oak with a new movement and their Chronograph with a 38mm case. This always used to be 39mm, then they turned it into 41mm for a few years and now AP reduced it again to 38mm. Great decision. Being the Royal Oak Jumbo fan that I am, I really love their new 15202 with salmon dial in white gold. I remember the Jubilee version of this watch (reference 14802) with a salmon dial, which I always admired. This new piece with the salmon dial is just stunning. What a sublime piece of work. The watch is not a limited edition (as someone said to me today), but the production will be very limited (which is a different thing, mind you).
At the end of the presentation (and he normally starts with this), CEO Bennahmias told everyone that the brand did 10% better in terms of turnover than the year before (when they also plussed a 100 mil compared to the year before, reaching the one billion Swiss Francs turnover) with the same number of watches (40.000 per annum). Also, the 2000 new CODE watches will take the place of 2000 Royal Oak models that are now included in the total annual production of 40.000.
One last thing I’d like to add. The fact that people are so keen to jump on AP and make a hateful comment about the CODE 11:59 watches also shows that people are not particularly indifferent to this brand. Most of them probably care about AP and love their (Royal Oak) watches (as I do), otherwise they would have just shrugged their shoulders and moved on. I am very keen to see what will happen to the CODE 11:59 and if it will survive in the long run without major changes to the design. I also wonder whether Audemars Piguet really needs something else than a Royal Oak watch and the occasional other design (Jules Audemars, Millenary, Tradition etc.). Why would they? Too afraid they lean too much on one specific watch? Royal Oak is Audemars Piguet for a long time now, I guess most people who are just getting interested in watches will only know them for this design. Anyway, it is something that will keep us occupied in the coming months, I am sure.
One of the other presentations that I attended was that of Montblanc. I always found this brand a bit of an awkward one in the palette of the Richemont Group. They compete with Baume & Mercier, but also with Jaeger-LeCoultre and perhaps even with some models of Vacheron Constantin and IWC. They used to be all over the place. Now, it seems that they have been restructuring their collection in just a few ‘families’ and come up with a more clear positioning. I will talk about that a bit later on when we discuss some of their watches. Today we saw the entire line-up, and I have to say that I am quite impressed by their perpetual calendar of just below 15.000 Euro (stainless steel, and about 25.000 Euro for the gold version). It is not the same movement as the previously discussed Baume & Mercier uses, but another group movement. This new Montblanc Heritage Perpetual Calendar reminded me a bit of Patek’s 3940 design to be honest, and perhaps that’s why I like it so much. Then there is also the attractive price, of course. The dial looks incredibly good on this Montblanc perpetual calendar watch, and I can also live with the new ‘heritage’ logo of Montblanc. One of my major concerns would be the case of this watch, and basically, all of the Heritage watches. They don’t show much variation in finish, it is all polished. That, and they look a bit too bulky. The attractive price point has to come from somewhere, of course. Let’s wait and see when we will get our hands on it for an article.
On day 3 we will have more photoshoots and interviews and will discuss some interesting subjects in our daily recap. It is also time to talk a bit more about the independent brands that are present at the show in Geneva.